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Nvidia's radical multi-resolution shading tech could help VR reach the masses

Brad Chacos | June 2, 2015
Nvidia's new multi-resolution shading tech takes advantage of the way virtual reality headsets render images to enable massive performance savings—which means prettier VR games or VR games on cheaper graphics cards.

GameWorks VR

There's a potential flaw in this gem, however. Multi-resolution shading isn't only restricted to the most recent GeForce graphics cards, but it's also an Nvidia proprietary technology being offered under the company's new GameWorks VR program, which brings Nvidia's former VR Direct initiatives (like VR SLI) under the GameWorks banner.

GameWorks is Nvidia-created middleware that adds features and technologies with performance optimized for GeForce graphics cards--but, naturally, not for AMD Radeon cards. That's been the cause of much recent hand-wringing, most recently when The Witcher 3 launched with Nvidia's HairWorks technology, allegedly--but not really--crippling performance on AMD hardware. (ExtremeTech has a superb overview of all the GameWorks concerns if you're interested.)

While the threat of GameWorks-packing titles that work well on GeForce GPUs--but not Radeons--feels overblown for standard games, the possibility of VR developers specifically targeting GeForce cards with a passion seems like a very real possibility, given the nascent nature of virtual reality and the potential performance benefits of multi-resolution shading. AMD can't see GameWorks code, which means it can't optimize its graphics cards for Nvidia's various proprietary technologies (like MRS).

That said, AMD's targeting VR developers with its own "LiquidVR" software development kit for Radeon hardware. While no multi-resolution shading-like feature has been announced for LiquidVR, AMD's been pounding the virtual reality pulpit hard, and it's easy to envision the company rolling out similar technology if MRS starts to gain traction with VR developers--though again, that raises the potential specter of separate, splintered software solutions dependent on the graphics hardware you're running, rather than a universal DirectX-like approach. 

But set aside all those worries for now. Virtual reality's one of the most exciting developments in the PC ecosystem in years, and if Nvidia's performance claims for multi-resolution shading prove true, it could genuinely be a killer feature for the fledgling VR field. Color me intrigued--and hopeful.


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